Mr. Speaker, I always appreciate the opportunity to share thoughts on important pieces of legislation the government brings forward, such as Bill .
During the last federal election, the , who was then the leader of the third party, made a commitment to legalize cannabis. Today we are discussing the second part of the legislation, which I believe will fulfill the commitment we made in 2015.
I have had the opportunity to go over a couple of our election commitments, and I have been listening to the debate today on the matter of legalization, as I have done previously. I want to highlight at the outset what the NDP said in the last federal election when Thomas Mulcair was the leader of the New Democratic Party. When asked about the NDP's position on this issue, he said that the NDP did not favour the legalization of cannabis.
That is why I find it interesting that today, NDP members are saying that we should expunge the records of those who were found in criminal violation of our former cannabis laws. On the one hand, prior to the election, NDP members said no to legalization. They were okay with decriminalization but not with legalization. Fast-forward a couple of years and now they have changed their minds. In fact, I recall that in one article, the current leader of the New Democratic Party took the position that everything should be legalized. He believes that any sort of illegal drug should be legal. Only now is this something NDP members want to talk about.
If we were to look at the the way the Liberal government has managed this file, I believe we would see that Canadians, in general, have been very supportive of it.
It has been interesting to listen to members of the opposition parties talk about the issue. The NDP has made a complete flip-flop, even suggesting now that the government can do more. Then there is the Conservative Party. One of the questions I posed to members across the way was whether the Conservatives, if they were in government, would make cannabis illegal again and retract the work the government has done over the last couple of years. They completely waffled on the question. In fact, they have implied that they would not change the law. Even though they voted against the legislation, they are not going to change it.
An hon. member: That is correct.
Mr. Kevin Lamoureux: Mr. Speaker, a member across the way just said that is correct. Even the Conservative Party has recognized that the idea the Liberals had back when we were the third party is solid and progressive, and one that is necessary at this stage.
Indirectly, on behalf of the government and Liberal caucus members, I would like to thank members of the Conservative Party and the NDP for recognizing that we have brought forward sound legislation. I would encourage them to continue to follow the direction that we continue to provide on this very important topic.
Bill would allow for pardons. Pardons are the best way to deal with the issues facing about 250,000 Canadians. I think that is the number.
All we are talking about is simple possession, not possession and other issues, but simple possession of cannabis. What can we do to assist those individuals who have a criminal record based on simple possession of cannabis? The government's response is to issue a pardon and ensure that the finances are not going to be a part of the issue so that anyone who has a simple possession of cannabis conviction will in fact be able to get that pardon if that is what he or she would like to see happen.
I am encouraged because the critic from the Conservative Party indicated that her personal position is favourable to what the Liberals are suggesting, which is a pardon. However, there have been some speakers in the Conservative Party who are saying that they are not convinced as of yet, but at least they are approaching it with an open mind on whether it should be expungement or a pardon. I suspect that once this bill gets to committee and they hear follow-up information, the Conservative Party will see the value in the recommendation that has been provided by science, experts and the department, which will clearly demonstrate that in fact a pardon is the best way to go.
I do not know about my New Democratic friends. I am not sure where they will go on this issue. They always try to come up with something different, something unique. They seem to be on the expungement bandwagon, even though we have come up with an explanation as to why it would not do what is necessary for us to advance this further. They do not want to talk about that. If we listen to the New Democrats, we would think it is absolutely unanimous throughout the country that it has to be expungement and that the government does not necessarily know what it is talking about. I would highly recommend that we do not listen to New Democrats in the House.
The best example I can give is that of a constituent crossing the border into the U.S. What are we telling people when we say that their record has been expunged? We are saying that the act they went to court for, were convicted of and got a criminal record for never existed. Therefore, when a U.S. border agent asks them if they were ever prosecuted and had a criminal offence dealing with cannabis, they might say no. Why? The government said that the record was expunged. That could lead to all sorts of problems for an individual. A pardon does not do what an expungement does. Millions of Canadians travel to the U.S. A pardon would allow a constituent the opportunity to go to the U.S., and the individual is not going to be misinformed. This is just one of the more blatant examples that I can provide.
Of the 250,000 people we are talking about, it is expected that about 10,000 or so will go through this pardon process. In the questions and comments from across the way, members are asking why it is 10,000 and what happens if there are more than 10,000.
Our civil service is one of the best of any country in the world. We have professional civil servants who have a very good understanding of our systems. I would suggest that the numbers that are being provided are not just coming out of the dark. The numbers come from individuals we have entrusted. If the number is higher or lower than 10,000, the government will adjust, but the predicted number is around 10,000. We have the flexibility to make the adjustment, if it is necessary.
The idea of providing a pardon is of great value to Canadians and to society. People do get themselves into situations. Someone will be found in possession, but by pure luck another individual who also is in possession is not found to be in possession. The individual found to be in possession gets a criminal record. That does not mean the individual is worse than the thousands of others that were never found guilty of possession.
Many would argue that the consequences are unfortunate. We have listened to many speeches as this has been going on for the last couple of years. We often hear of individuals not being able to get a job because they have a criminal record based on the simple possession of cannabis. As a parliamentarian, I find that is a hard thing to ignore and not do anything about.
This legislation is good for Canadian society, especially now when we recognize that when we passed Bill , the legalization of cannabis legislation, it only makes sense that we do what we can in regard to those who were found guilty of simple possession to enable them to dispose of that record via a pardon process.
Once this legislation is passed, thousands of Canadians in all regions of our country will apply to get their criminal record pardoned. This will assist many of those individuals in applying for a job or performing charity work. Canada is very dependent on volunteers. There are many ways society can benefit, such as an individual having a job and being able to participate more fully. These are the types of things we are going to witness. All one has to do is talk to some of those individuals. There are plenty of them, a quarter of a million of them. That is a lot of people. These individuals will directly benefit and there are many more that will realize an indirect benefit.
One of the things that is really important from the government's perspective, and even from a member of Parliament's perspective, is that we have to work towards making our communities safer for all of us. Individuals should feel safe in the communities in which they live. They should feel safe walking on the sidewalks in their neighbourhoods. They should feel safe being a part of their community and not be scared to walk down the street. We need to look at ways to reduce the amount of crime in our communities.
I was pleased when the came to Winnipeg North and joined me on Selkirk Avenue, where we met with James, a fellow from the Bear Clan Patrol and one of the board members. We were able to check out a bit of Selkirk Avenue. The minister used to be the chief of police for the city of Toronto.
We understand how important it is that we strive to have less crime on our streets. With Bill , working along with Bill and the legalization of cannabis, at the end of the day there is going to be less crime in our communities. These are the types of actions that are important for us to act on.
Today we have a second bill on a very important issue, an issue that we made a promise about in 2015. We are fulfilling yet another commitment to Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, my thoughts are with the journalists who have to fact check one of Donald Trump's speeches. They must dread finding that the fact checking is longer than the speech. I felt a bit like that when I was listening to the member for . The 10-minute question period was not even long enough to correct the facts. If the member had listened to the testimony from the minister and departmental officials in committee, he would have seen just how problematic his comments were.
Bill arrived at the eleventh hour of this Parliament. Record suspension for simple cannabis possession should have been included in the government's legalization bill. It is crucial to make some distinctions here. I heard a number of members on both sides of the House, myself included, use the word “pardon”, but there is an important distinction to be made.
First, the debate on this bill includes a lot of talk about Canadians being able to cross the border. In the United States, being granted a pardon has a different connotation. Any lawyer will tell you that. In the United states, that is something only the executive branch can do. Giving an individual a presidential pardon, for example, means eliminating their criminal record and giving them a full pardon. In Canada, however, the individual continues to have a criminal record. I will come back to that.
Several years ago, when the Conservative government decided to call this a criminal record suspension, it had a very clear intention, namely to remind those concerned that they had not been pardoned and that the government had only done them the favour of suspending their criminal record. It is often the vulnerable who end up in a precarious situation. They generally try to get a pardon, which is now being called a record suspension, in order to get a job, rent an apartment or do volunteer work. Statistics show that 95% are not recidivists. Calling this a pardon did not pose any problems, since the program itself required these people to demonstrate good behaviour for a number of years before they were able to submit an application.
This change might appear insignificant or semantic to some people who, like us, are in a position of privilege. However, a study done by the Department of Public Safety has acknowledged that these changes are needed. The minister himself said several years ago that this would be rectified in the course of a much-needed reform of the record suspension program, and yet it still has not been done. Unfortunately, with the election just a few months away, we do not expect this to get done, which is really too bad.
This is part of the broader debate we have already had on several occasions. Let us deal specifically with record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis. Several things came to light during the debate and in committee. First of all, suspending the criminal record does not make it disappear, and this has a number of repercussions. For instance, on job applications, candidates are sometimes asked whether they have ever had a criminal record for which they were granted a suspension.
At committee, like a good politician with several decades of experience, the minister was very careful to specify that the act prohibits employers from discriminating against candidates who have been granted suspensions. Fortunately, departmental officials were there, and they interrupted to clarify that there is nothing in the act to stop employers from asking the question. In fact, the act even specifies that candidates must answer honestly.
I do not know what my colleagues think, but anyone who thinks people will feel protected just because the law prohibits discrimination and that candidates for all kinds of positions and in all spheres of life have never experienced discrimination must be dreaming.
The people in this situation who would try to get a job are the very same people who would then struggle to get legal aid to file a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, or even to launch more of a legal complaint. Anyone who says this is insignificant is completely ignoring the reality of those people.
Who are those people? They are racialized, indigenous and young Canadians, Canadians who are in a particular situation that makes it even more difficult for them under normal circumstances, much less with a criminal record in their file, one for which they cannot get proper recourse or remediation through expungement just by having a record suspension.
Let me provide some examples. When we look at cities like Toronto and Halifax, black Canadians are disproportionately more likely to have a criminal record for nothing but simple possession of cannabis. In cities like Regina, indigenous people are 10 times more likely than white Canadians to have a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis.
The , under the different portfolios he has managed since he has come to this House, said in 2016 that one of the great injustices in the country was that these Canadians were disproportionately impacted by records for simple possession of cannabis. That is interesting. Why? When Bill was adopted in this place, which sought to remediate the grave injustice LGBTQ Canadians were subjected to because of the criminalization of their lives due to their sexual orientation, the government rightly pointed out that it was a historic injustice.
The problem now, and this is not to pit communities against each other, is that the is using Bill as an arbitrary, legally non-existent crutch to identify that there is somehow a ceiling for what needs to exist to expunge criminal records, which is a grave injustice.
With regard to this grave historic injustice, I asked the himself questions about it in the House. He said that, yes, it was disappointing and distressing to see this, and that it was obviously unfair, but he refused to call it an injustice.
When I questioned the minister in committee, he went out of his way to avoid using the word, even though another minister had used it back then, and he said that society's grave injustices should depend on what the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms defines as a violation.
This minister was wrong, because, as distinguished lawyer Kent Roach has said, the charter should be the minimum, not the maximum, in terms of our sense of justice. Citing rulings from the Supreme Court of Canada, Annamaria Enenajor, the director of the Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty, told the committee that a law can be discriminatory in its application without being discriminatory on its face.
In other words, if a law starts out with good intentions but leads to a discriminatory outcome, it can still be considered a discriminatory law, and if a law or application of a law is discriminatory, that means an injustice has been committed.
That is why we want criminal records to be expunged and not just suspended. The minister seems to be insisting on this point, but he cannot say why. He keeps referring to Bill .
Can we, as Canadians, say that while a grave, historic injustice was done to the LGBTQ community, we cannot say the same thing about the application of the law regarding the possession of a drug that is now legal, namely, cannabis? This was an injustice largely done to vulnerable communities. I find that really troubling.
On that note, Solomon Friedman, a criminal defence lawyer who was at our committee last week, said that this law is not a bad thing, and it is good that we are putting in place mechanisms for these Canadians to more easily receive pardons. In the words of many witnesses and experts, it is the absolute bare minimum. As Mr. Friedman said in committee, certainly we can do better than the absolute bare minimum, especially for indigenous, racialized and other Canadians who are in vulnerable situations.
It is not just a distinction between expungement and record suspension. It is also an issue of whether it is automatic. This legislation would still make Canadians jump through the crazy hoops that exist to obtain a record suspension. The government thinks it has solved that because it would be free of charge and there would be no wait times. However, the reality is different.
When the public safety committee, which I am the vice-chair of, did a study on how we can reform the record suspension program and fix all the issues it has, one of the things that came up time and time again, which all parties agreed on, was the fact the most exorbitant part of the process and the costs imposed on these Canadians is not the cost to apply, which is what the government would be waiving. It is the fact that people have to go to a municipal court and a provincial court. They have to get their fingerprint records. They have to go to the police station. Two Conservative members who are former police officers validated all this information. They said that it is indeed extremely labourious for these Canadians to obtain all those things.
As officials confirmed at committee, indeed it would not be a cost-free process, no matter what members in this House on the government side attempt to tell us.
The costs associated with this process must therefore be assumed by individuals who often do not have the means and are actually applying for the suspension to be able to get a job. Bill currently before the House maintains certain mechanisms that prevent people from getting their criminal records suspended. It is not true that anyone who has a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis just has to fill out a form for that to happen. That does not just magically happen. This will not be the case for people who, for example, have administration of justice offences on their records. We are not talking about murderers. We are talking about people who might have an outstanding $50 fine, which would make them ineligible. Departmental officials confirmed that such individuals would not be eligible for the process being offered by the government.
I would like the government to explain why an indigenous person who has a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis and who was unable to go to court because he lives in a remote area cannot get the government to suspend his record because of an unpaid $50 fine. The government says that it cares about the interests of all communities. I do not understand how that is in the interests of people who are simply looking to sort out the criminal record they have for something that is now legal and ensure it is no longer a burden that prevents them from renting an apartment, getting a job or volunteering.
I am also talking about travelling across the border. I almost fell off my chair when I heard what the minister said in committee. He got two bills passed in his name that increase the amount of information we share with the United States. He said that he was sorry, but that the Americans had been keeping a lot of information about us for far too long, and so we could not really control what they do at the border. In passing, I am astounded that the minister recognizes that this is a problem, but yet, every time we raise this issue in debate, he tells us it is not a big deal and we should not worry because the United States is our ally.
There is, however, good reason to worry. I said at the outset that the Americans do not make the same distinction as we do between a pardon and a record suspension. The minister tried to give the most ridiculous excuse that I think I have ever heard in my eight years as an MP. He said that one of the reasons why it was better for people to have their record suspended was because a suspension leaves a paper trail, which would give them the documentary proof they needed at the border.
I see two problems with that.
After I asked the question, the department's staff confirmed that with the passage of Bill , which would expunge records, those affected will actually receive written confirmation. It's a miracle.
Second, no one can tell me that, in a G7 country, we are unable to implement a mechanism to provide confirmation that a record has been expunged. As some might say, my word, I do not understand how a government can look at something with such a narrow lens when it was elected by stating that it wanted to take a broader view. That is just crazy. It boggles my mind.
In the same vein, that was the one reason that was given, even though witnesses then came and said that a record suspension will not make it any easier to cross the border. A person would still have to jump through all the hoops that the Americans will impose, if they even choose to let the person in at all, which, at the end of the day, as the minister said, remains at their discretion. An expungement means that Canadians do not have to lie at the border, which is obviously the more egregious offence. However, the priority here is what is happening domestically. It is about these folks being able to get jobs, rent apartments, volunteer and do all the things that sometimes a criminal record can prevent them from doing.
I want to go back to the notion of the administrative burden. The minister is talking about jumping through hoops, saying that it is about paperwork, this, that and the other thing. I asked the minister why it could not be made automatic, and he told me, basically, that it would be too much work. I am paraphrasing, and I am sure he would disagree with my characterization of this, but every other stakeholder I spoke to shared this characterization of what he said.
Apparently, the federal government believes, and it told us, that it would take 10 years to expunge 250,000 records. Well, when we look at the Phoenix debacle, maybe it is right. Maybe the government finally recognized its own ineptitude in managing these files. However, it is absurd to think that somehow the government is going to put the burden on vulnerable Canadians and make them do this process on their own, which many will not even be aware of, will not have the money to pay for and will not even know where to go for. The government could make it automatic, but, sorry, the Parole Board of Canada might have too much work to do, God forbid. As far as I am concerned, that is completely unacceptable when we look at the individuals who are affected by this particular issue.
Certainly, we understand that government databases are no treat to navigate, but there has to be a way that the government can somehow dream a little more, as the Liberals promised they would when they got elected, and somehow find a way to deal with 250,000 records.
With Bill , of the 9,000 LGBTQ Canadians who were criminalized by the Criminal Code, seven have applied so far through that process. Does the government expect me to believe that because officials came to committee and told us not to worry and that they are going to have a non-traditional marketing campaign using social media and other things, the government will make sure that these Canadians know that this process exists? It is laughable. Quite frankly, it is pathetic.
It should have been part of the process from the beginning.
I want to qualify that. The previous speaker tried to explain the NDP's position in terms of decriminalization. It was to prevent these records from piling up that we wanted to move forward on decriminalization before legalization. It was also because we understand that we have to address this as a public health issue and not a public safety issue.
It is exactly because of our core values that we are saying that the right approach is to expunge these records and not to offer a process that is fundamentally problematic.
I will conclude by saying that we had criminal defence lawyers in committee confirm to us that a record suspension, whether given through a process like Bill or the normal process outside of a special piece of legislation, is always conditional on continued good behaviour.
What does that mean? That is not about someone who is going to go out and commit a horrific crime. That means that the Parole Board of Canada can decide that because someone got caught speeding, going 130 kilometres per hour on a highway, this could be considered. Those things have happened.
I believe this bill is a clear reflection of the Liberal government that has been in power for four years. It is a useless exercise that lets them claim to be progressive when, in reality, they are quite the opposite.
Mr. Speaker, today I will be sharing my time with the great member for .
I would like to start by picking up on a comment that was made in response to one of the questions by the previous member. He referred to what this government had done on the cannabis file as trying to relitigate the last election and as throwing a small bone, yet Canada is one of a few countries in the world that have actually legalized cannabis, with the intent of heavily regulating it so that we can make sure it stays out of the hands of people who should not have it. We are now taking another step, which is to put a pardon system into place whereby those with simple possession charges and convictions can be pardoned. The members opposite in the NDP are referring to this as throwing a small bone and as being a relatively ineffective measure, which is extremely unreflective of what is actually going on here.
What this bill does propose is to make pardons, also known as record suspensions, much more readily available to people convicted only of simple possession of cannabis. Normally there is a waiting period of up to 10 years to apply for a pardon after a sentence is completed. Under Bill , the waiting period would be eliminated for people convicted only of simple possession of cannabis.
There would also be no associated application fee. It is worth pointing out that the usual fee for a pardon is $631, and this fee would be waived entirely. The goal here is to help rid people of the burden and the stigma that comes with a criminal record for simple possession of cannabis and to do so as quickly and as early as possible.
Since the Cannabis Act came into force in October of last fall, the simple possession of lawfully obtained cannabis is no longer a criminal offence. With this new legal framework in place, the time has come to address the lingering legacy that came before. Simply put, there are many Canadians who are saddled with criminal records only for simple possession of cannabis. These are relatively minor offences, especially when we consider the recent changes to the law, but the real-life consequences they carry can be severe and long-lasting.
We know those consequences have disproportionately affected vulnerable and marginalized communities in Canada, including the black and indigenous communities. Studies have shown that rates of cannabis use are relatively similar across racial groups, and yet in 2017 a study conducted by the Toronto Star showed that Canadians of African descent with no criminal convictions were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than were white people with similar histories.
A criminal record can represent a real roadblock when it comes to trying to cross an international border, applying for a job, looking for housing or volunteering in a community. A pardon removes that roadblock. The effect of a pardon is fully recognized and protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act as well as laws in many provinces and territories.
The Parole Board of Canada is the agency that would handle the administration of streamlining and expediting the pardons process proposed in Bill . The board's website would function as a primary window for applicants. A step-by-step application guide and forms with a full set of instructions would be made available online. In addition, there will be postings to assist applicants, including a 1-800 information number and a dedicated email address. Usually Parole Board members consider subjective criteria, such as whether the applicant has been of good conduct or whether the pardon will bring him or her measurable benefit. Under Bill , those criteria would be waived. The decision would be based on an administrative review by a staff member, further speeding up the process. The administrative review would simply confirm that the only convictions being pardoned are for simple possession of cannabis, that there are no convictions for other offences on the applicant's record and that the sentence is complete. This streamlined process would give more people a chance to make a fresh start and to move on with their lives.
To meet this important objective, it will be essential to reach out to as many interested people as possible and as early as possible. That is why I am pleased to note that the Parole Board is in full planning mode for the future outreach efforts with stakeholders.
These stakeholders are community organizations and advocate groups, as well as courts; police forces; provincial, territorial and municipal partners; and the law societies of Canada. The purpose of these outreach efforts is to raise awareness of the proposed reforms so people with criminal records for cannabis possession know that the streamlined process exists and know how to avail themselves of it.
People who have been convicted only of simple possession of cannabis should be able to play a meaningful role in their communities and Canadian society. They should have access to good, stable jobs and adequate housing for themselves and their families. They should not face continued burdens and stigma for having committed a crime that is no longer a crime. That is why I support Bill and the specific recourse the government is proposing.
Waiving the fee and the waiting period are unprecedented and extraordinary measures, but they are appropriate in this instance. The government originally announced its intention to introduce legislation to this effect on October 17 of last year. On that day, Canada became only the second country in the world to legalize and regulate cannabis.
I am proud that we had the courage during the last election to recognize the problems with cannabis prohibition and commit to changing things. I am proud that we upheld that commitment. I am proud the legislation we have today is before us and paves the way for law-abiding Canadians to turn the page on convictions for simple possession of cannabis. Allowing them to contribute to society to their fullest potential is not only good for them, but good for all of us. That is why Bill is so important and that is what it is all about. I urge all hon. members of this House to join me in supporting this very important piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, it seems the hon. member for touched a nerve in the NDP. We are still hearing about it. The NDP members keep chirping, and I am happy to keep rambling on while they keep chirping. We will get into it further. I am sure there will a question or two.
It is an honour to rise at second reading of Bill , an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis.
During the last election, we committed to legalizing and regulating cannabis and to legislation doing exactly what took effect last fall. At that time, the government signalled that it would turn its attention to dealing with the criminal records created under the old regime. Now we have before us Bill , legislation that would make it easier for individuals who were previously convicted only of simple possession of cannabis to have their records cleared.
Bill proposes an expedited process for receiving a pardon, also known as a record suspension. The usual $631 application fee would be waived, as would the usual waiting period, which could be as long as 10 years. The bill would reduce barriers for full participation in society for those individuals. It would allow them greater access to job opportunities, educational programs, housing and even the ability to simply volunteer in their communities. It would make things fairer.
It would enhance public safety by allowing people to reintegrate into society. It would fulfill an important commitment to Canadians in delivering on this new regime.
This is the first time in history that both the application fee and the wait period for a pardon would be waived. This unprecedented measure is a strong statement recognizing that convictions for simple possession of cannabis have resulted in hardship for many Canadians and that certain populations, including members of black and indigenous communities, have been disproportionately impacted.
For my part today, I would like to delve a little deeper into the nuts and bolts of the legislation. To begin with, Bill would amend the Criminal Records Act. It would waive the fee, waiting period and certain subjective criteria for people convicted only of simple possession of cannabis under one of three acts: the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Narcotic Control Act, which existed until the 1990's, and the National Defence Act.
Eligibility would not be based on the amount possessed but rather on the purpose. People would be eligible if possession was for personal use only. People would not be eligible if there was any trafficking or production involved. To qualify for the waived wait period, applicants would simply have to demonstrate to the Parole Board of Canada these basic facts: first, that the substance they possessed was cannabis; second, that their sentence was completed; and third, that the conviction was only for possession for personal use. To do so, applicants would provide standard police and court documents. The Parole Board would be available to help people through the process by email or by phone.
As a way of further expediting the process, the decision to grant a pardon would not be discretionary. Usually a Parole Board member assesses pardon applications to decide whether an applicant has been of “good conduct” and whether a pardon would give them some “measurable benefit”. This discretion based on subjective criteria would not apply here. Instead, the Parole Board would be required to issue a pardon as long as someone was eligible and had completed his or her sentence. There would be nothing else to consider. The application would therefore be processed much more quickly by Parole Board staff.
Once a pardon was ordered, the Parole Board would notify the RCMP to have the records sequestered in the National Repository of Criminal Records. Once that was done, the RCMP would notify other federal agencies. The Parole Board would alert provincial, territorial and municipal partners. That means that a criminal record check, for instance, by a prospective employer or landlord, would come up empty. The records could only be disclosed or reinstated in exceptional circumstances. In practice, for cannabis possession, the only likely scenario in which anyone would ever see one's records again would be if someone committed a new criminal offence.
Bill would fulfill our commitment to create a simplified process for people with convictions for cannabis possession to shed their criminal records along with the associated burdens and stigma.
Work also is continuing on broader pardons reform informed by consultations held by the Parole Board and the Department of Public Safety as well as in a recent study by the public safety committee. That study, initiated by the member for , led to thoughtful and unanimous recommendations calling for pardons to become more accessible, not just for cannabis possession but across the board. I am glad that Parliament has been seized with the issue, and I look forward to progress on that front.
For the moment, though, we have an opportunity to move forward right now with targeted recourse in Bill . As I have noted, this would further enhance public safety by reducing the barriers to reintegration associated with a criminal record. Many Canadians are stuck with a criminal record for activity that is no longer considered a crime. It is about time we made things fairer for Canadians who have been living crime free. That is why I offer my full support for Bill . I encourage my colleagues to do the right thing and join me in making sure that the bill moves forward.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to go back to the discussion we were just having. My two colleagues who just spoke supported the legalization of cannabis, and the discussion we have had over the last few minutes about these administrative charges was interesting.
When talking to prosecutors about past charges around simple possession, they will tell us that many times people go into court charged with multiple offences, such as perhaps other drug offences or trafficking. Those kinds of things are tied in, and the charges are often pleaded down to simple possession. In that kind of situation, the offender would qualify for the Liberals' proposal; whereas, a teenager from a rural area who is charged and does not have the capacity to get to a court hearing, or who fails to appear and gets this administrative charge, would not qualify for that kind of hearing.
Right from the beginning, we see the unintended consequences of poor legislation, and this is not the only bill where that has happened with the Liberal government. The present Liberal government will be known in the future as the government that brought legislation in without having thought through much of it. When bills come back with 25, 30 or 40 amendments, we know that the government has not done its job with respect to preparation.
We have seen that all over the place. We have seen it with respect to a million different issues. We are seeing it at home right now in my area, on the canola issue. We found out early on that the Chinese government wanted us to do something about tariffs on steel, and our government refused to do that. It was more interested in kowtowing to the Chinese government than dealing with our biggest trading partner, the United States. As a result of not moving on it, we ended up with tariffs. Now we have further tariffs on canola. We have tariffs on pork. We have these tariffs because the government does not consider what it is doing. It does not take into account the consequences of its activities, and then we see all kinds of secondary effects. This legislation, when I get around to talking about it, indicates that as well.
We see it on carbon taxes and other taxes imposed by the Liberal government. It has had the highest impact on Canadian people with the least effect of any type of carbon program that one could put in place.
Aboriginal affairs would be another good example. We heard this afternoon about the fact that the government failed to consult the aboriginal community with respect to another bill. The government has not asked the aboriginal community what is best for its people. The Liberals claim that the majority of people who would be impacted by that legislation are aboriginal and those with a very low income, but they have not asked them what would work for them. Often aboriginal peoples do not have access to urban centres or easy access to the Internet and those kinds of things, and the Liberals do not ask them what would work for them. Instead, they come with a plan that for many people would not work.
With respect to aboriginal affairs, the Liberals have divided communities. Many bands want to participate in the energy projects in our part of the world. They want to have a part of the prosperity that comes out of energy projects, and the government has basically divided those communities. That seems to be what the Liberal government does most effectively.
The government talked about having consultations on this legislation, but it failed to do that. It also claimed to have had consultations at its firearms meetings in the last few months. It set the meetings up to make them work as well as possible for itself, but that did not quite turn out. There were 135,000 online responses, and basically it was 75% to 80% opposed to the government making a move and changing things. I guess the government did not anticipate that, but that was the reality of the Canadian population. Once again, the Liberals misread it.
We see unintended consequences around energy disasters such as the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline. There was no need to do that.
Probably the place where we have seen the most obvious set of unintended consequences is around financial management. We have seen those folks just blow through people's tax money.
It was interesting. Last week, we were talking about the budget implementation bill. The deputy House leader, at every point, talked about the public purse. However, rarely did he talk about taxpayers and the fact that there is only one place that the government gets money, and that is out of the pocket of the taxpayers of Canada.
On each of these things, whether it is budgets that are running deficits that are two and three times what were promised, or the Trans Mountain pipeline, a pipeline that no one wanted to sell and no one wanted to buy, the government has not thought about taxpayers. The proponents themselves were willing to spend the money on the project. However, now we have Canadian taxpayers who have dived into it to the tune of about $5 billion so far. If the government is going to get the project done, it will be another $10 billion. The government has committed that kind of money to it without even thinking about taxpayers.
The Liberal government has also failed to spend its infrastructure money fairly and equally.
Another area where there has been unintended consequences, probably one of the most obvious ones, was the summer jobs program. The Liberals completely misread Canadians, trying to force them to follow the Liberal ideology. Anyone who had a different perspective from the government was then pushed to the outside.
I would argue that we are back here again. We have the late introduction of Bill . It looks more like a public relations project than anything else. Again, this follows in the footsteps of Bill and Bill , bills that the Liberals passed without an understanding of many of the consequences of what they were doing. I was not one of the people who supported those two bills.
The Liberals find themselves in a situation right now where they do not have the capacity to meet the demand. They did not prepare for that. They do not have capacity to set a realistic price. Those folks who are happily selling on the private market are doing just fine, in spite of the government's attempt to try to stop that.
The messaging across the way has been that the government is going to keep this out of the hands of people who should not have it. When I am talking to junior high-school students, for example, they are telling me that this is more accessible to them than it has ever been in their lives.
There is certainly no solution at the border either. I heard Liberal members say earlier today that they have had discussions and this is not going to be a problem for Canadians. We know full well that it is. We have a small crossing near my home. I went down to Montana a couple of weeks ago, to the post office down there, and came back. U.S. Customs agents are now stopping Canadians on the U.S. side of the border before we come into Canada.
As members know, people stop at the U.S. side on the way down, and when they come back, typically they drive to the Canadian side and then out. They are now stopping everyone prior to being allowed to exit to Canada. I asked why they were doing this, and I was told that they have direction from on high. I asked when it happened and was told that, coincidentally, when Canada legalized cannabis. There is another problem here that the Liberals never thought of at all.
I have another thing I want to talk about today as I am wrapping up. It seems like time flies very quickly here. We have talked a lot about the difference between pardons and expungement, and those kinds of things. The government has made its choice; others have very different ideas.
One of the things I want to bring up goes back to the taxpayers. There is a bill here of somewhere between zero and $600 million to do this process. I have a question as to why the taxpayers should be stuck with this bill one more time. The government seems comfortable spending everyone else's money.
This morning, we heard a Liberal member talking about his friend who, when he graduated from university, could not get a job at 7-Eleven, but now he is a public servant. He is a public servant and is probably doing really well. Why should the folks who are now working at 7-Eleven be expected to pay for his pardon or expungement, whichever direction the Liberal government finally goes in with this legislation?
We have gone so far away from considering where money comes from. The government takes it out of the pockets of average people and does not think a thing about it. We have a situation here where people have broken the law, and they typically broke it knowing what the law was and that if they got caught there was going to be a punishment.
The law is now changed, and I do not have any problem with people getting pardons or expungement of these records. The question is, why should the taxpayers, those folks who are working for an hourly wage, be expected to then pay that bill?
I suspect that this is going to be much less successful than the Liberals said it will be. I was surprised a little earlier when one of my NDP colleagues talked about the pardons that have been made available to the gay and lesbian community. He said that only seven people so far have applied to the process. That probably means the process is too complicated for people to be bothered with and people have not done that.
Today I have heard figures that 10,000 people will apply, that there are 200,000, up to 400,000, who will be impacted by this. My question to the government today would be, why does it expect that the taxpayers of Canada would once more pick up the cost for a government bill that has a number of unintended consequences that were not considered ahead of time?
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill . The bill has come forth from the lack of foresight from the government. The Liberals have tried to hurry this legalization through on a self-imposed political timeline of the 's own making. This is done in spite of concerns which municipalities, law enforcement, health care professionals and other stakeholders have had with the legislation around the legalization of recreational marijuana in the first place. As issues arise with the recreational use of marijuana going forward, there have to be due diligence and proper steps taken to protect Canadians. Because of this, I will be very cautiously supporting this bill to see amendments come forward at committee.
By its very nature, the process and rollout of marijuana legalization draws parallels with prohibition and re-legalization of alcohol in Canada during the first half of the 20th century. Prince Edward Island was the first province in Canada to successfully enact an alcohol prohibition statute and the last to repeal it. As such, there are some similarities to draw between the government's re-legalization of alcohol and the government's legalization of marijuana.
In 1900, Prince Edward Island banned the possession or sale of alcohol except for sacramental or medical use. It could be prescribed by a doctor for a variety of ills. If a person were to be charged and found guilty of violating prohibition, he or she would face a $100 fine or two months in jail. This was a stiff sentence at the time, and the premier would often see many letters from convicted persons and their families asking for a pardon or an adjustment of the sentence. By the mid-1930s, Prince Edward Island saw some 1,700 convictions for possession, consumption or sale of alcohol, but after that point, attitudes began to shift on the subject of prohibition and it seemed to be rejected by a growing number of the population. This is very similar to how the social thought on marijuana use has changed over the last decade. Following the shift in social acceptance in both cases, enforcement efforts began to wane.
In the last few years of prohibition, many bootlegging operations were running openly, quite similar to how we saw many illegal marijuana dispensaries openly operate all across the country in the last few years before the legalization of recreational marijuana. Even after the legalization rollout, there are still many illegal dispensaries operating, unlicensed and unregulated, across the country. There seems to be little being done about them. These illegal dispensaries are making it much easier for minors to get their hands on marijuana outside of the particular provincial regulation schemes, either provincially run stores or private businesses.
The island's prohibition era ended with the Temperance Act effective in 1948 which established government liquor stores and regulated sale to residents and tourists through a system of permits and quotas. Many of the arguments we heard in favour of legalization of recreational marijuana were also used back then with the re-legalization of alcohol, everything from combatting the black market to collecting revenue. In both cases, the government's effort to mitigate the black market sale of these substances has had little effect in reality. Bootlegging operations still ran in P.E.I. until a massive crackdown in the mid-2000s, and today the black market accounts for 80% of marijuana sales, making for billions of dollars every year.
In the wake of legalization, there are still so many questions that remain. It is clear that the government was hasty in its rollout of this legislation.
Many groups, including law enforcement, were concerned about an increase in drug-impaired driving after legalization, but the Liberals assured the public that this would not be the case and they would equip police forces properly to deal with and enforce the new law. Now it has come out that the roadside marijuana testing devices that the Liberals quickly approved in time for last year's legalization rollout are giving regular false positives. This failure is taken right out of an episode of Seinfeld.
During testing, these roadside testing devices were giving false positives for subjects who had recently eaten something containing poppyseeds, like a bagel or poppyseed loaf. All of these people tested positive for opiates in their saliva and in their urine. If someone ate a poppyseed bagel and then was pulled over and was tested positive by the police, the person would be arrested and taken to the station for a urine test. If that tested positive, then that person could be charged with impaired driving, all for having eaten a bagel or a slice of lemon poppyseed loaf with his or her coffee at Tim's that morning. This is just one of a long list of failures for the and the Liberal government.
In 2015, we heard the say, as he was looking Canadians right in the eye, that he was going to balance the budget. It was in the same time frame that he admitted the budget would perhaps balance itself. We have learned that neither were true: promise made, promise broken. This will affect Canadians for a generation or more with deficits projected past the year 2040.
The carbon tax is nothing more than a tax grab. It is a tax plan dressed up as an environmental plan. Hopefully, with enough HST charged on that new tax, the Liberals will be able to pay for some of the reckless spending by the .
The same promised transparency and to bring a new level of ethics to politics. However, scandal after scandal has proven that to be a failure. With the illegal vacations on a billionaire's island and giving lucrative fishing contracts to family members, the is anything but ethical. That is not to mention him interfering politically in the criminal prosecution of his friends and Liberal donors at SNC-Lavalin, where he was caught pressuring the at the time, and when she talked, he fired her.
Most recently, the has continued his string of failures on the world stage with his actions, or lack thereof, on China. Two Canadians have been arbitrarily detained. We have recently heard of an additional Canadian being sentenced to death. China has blocked billions of dollars' worth of Canada's world-class canola and we are adding pork exports to the list. All of this has been going on while the has been absent. He has not even replaced his hand-picked ambassador and we see the effects it has had on Canadian interests and security.
With the 's track record of failing to deliver on his commitments, it is important to be diligent and cautious when we are dealing with any piece of legislation that the government has put forward, particularly at this stage in this Parliament, when we know that the Liberals are looking to deliver on at least one of their campaign promises. However, when it concerns the safety of our children and the safety of the driving public, we need to be very diligent in ensuring we get this right.
We hope that at committee we will be able to have the good work done that is necessary to implement a strategy that protects Canadians. I will be very cautiously supporting this bill to see it amended in the best interests of Canadians. We are hopeful this promise, having been made in the best interests of the safety of Canadians, is one promise the is willing and able to keep.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill at second reading. This bill will make things fairer for Canadians and their families. There was an ineffective prohibition of cannabis for far too long and, as a result, many Canadians ended up with a criminal record after being convicted of simple possession of cannabis.
Criminal records can make it hard for people to get jobs, find housing or even volunteer in their communities. The associated stigma can create the impression that the individual will always be seen as a criminal.
Criminal records are obviously necessary in the context of public safety. However, they can run counter to their objective when they prevent people who do not represent a danger from actively participating in society. This is particularly true when the activity for which the individual was convicted is no longer illegal and when the members of certain communities are disproportionately affected.
This is why our government has introduced Bill , which would streamline the process for getting a pardon, also known as a record suspension, by waiving the waiting period and the application fee.
Generally speaking, an individual convicted of simple possession of cannabis must wait five years for a pardon, although the waiting period can be as long as 10 years. With Bill , applicants could apply as soon as they have finished serving their sentence. The application fee, which has been $631 since 2012, would be waived. On top of that, the usual criteria, like determining whether people have shown good behaviour and whether a pardon would bring them a measurable benefit, would also be waived.
The Parole Board of Canada is taking additional steps, such as simplifying application forms and doing community outreach, with the goal of allowing people with past convictions for cannabis possession to clear their records and move on with their lives as quickly and easily as possible.
This is one of the final chapters in the unfortunate story of cannabis prohibition in Canada, which goes back almost a century. Billions of dollars have been wasted enforcing an ineffective legal regime, not to mention the billions that lined the pockets of organized crime.
In spite of the prohibition, Canadian youth are among the heaviest users of cannabis in the world. Some of them, especially members of marginalized communities, were saddled with criminal records that limited their educational and economic opportunities.
Because of the many different courts and police services in urban and rural communities all across our country, each with its own archives of convictions that go back decades, we do not know the exact number of Canadians with simple possession charges on their records. However, we do know that a simplified pardon process with no waiting period or application fee would make it easier for people to get the pardons they need to finally turn the page.
During the last election, we committed to ending the ineffective and counterproductive prohibition of cannabis. The NDP, on the other hand, wanted to maintain the prohibition of cannabis, with a decriminalization system that would have seen police issuing fines to people in marginalized and low-income communities. As for the Conservatives, they still think that people who possess a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be thrown in jail.
Canadians gave us the opportunity to enact our proposal in October 2018, and we did exactly that. With the coming into force of Bill , we put in place a system of legal, strictly regulated cannabis production and distribution, designed to keep cannabis out of the hands of Canadian youth and to keep profits out of the hands of criminals. At that time, the government announced that it intended to provide recourse for individuals who had been convicted of simple possession of cannabis only. Once again, we have delivered on our commitment.
A pardon with no waiting period and no fee is a very effective measure available to everyone in our society.
When a person is pardoned, their criminal record is sealed and sequestered. A criminal record check by a prospective employer or landlord would come up empty, and U.S. border services would not find anything in the Canadian police database either.
The criminal record could only be disclosed or reinstated in exceptional circumstances, for example, if a new criminal offence is committed.
The effect of a pardon is fully recognized and protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on a person's criminal record.
Many provinces and territories offer similar protection. Waiving the usual wait period and application fee are unprecedented measures. By doing so, we would be removing the major obstacles in the path of Canadians seeking to lift the stigma and burden of a criminal record for possession of cannabis, allowing them to participate fully in society and become responsible Canadians.
We cannot go back in time and give them back the opportunities they have lost, but we can give them a way of moving forward. When people fully reintegrate into Canadian society by going to school, getting jobs and generally participating in community life and Canadian society, we are all better off.
It was in our collective best interest to end the prohibition of cannabis, because a system governed by a rigorous legal framework is safer for us all than a black market operating without oversight of any kind. Now that we have a legal framework in place, it is in our collective best interest to enable Canadians who have previous convictions for possession of cannabis to clear the criminal records imposed on them under the old regime.
Bill is a step in that direction. I strongly support this bill, and I urge all my hon. colleagues to do the same.
Mr. Speaker, this afternoon's debate on Bill , an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis, gives me the chance I have long sought to make a clear statement in the House of Commons as to the principles that underlie my long-standing views on cannabis legalization. This is actually my second chance, as I was also able to do so in addressing the private member's bill on the same subject a couple of weeks ago.
I have long favoured the legalization of marijuana. Indeed, I have favoured it since I first sought elected office, almost 20 years ago. My views on the subject were first expressed at a public policy conference in 2001 and published in Policy Options the same year, so my comments on this subject have been on the record for a very long time.
I have always couched my arguments in practical rather than abstract terms. However, the debate today, like the one a couple of weeks ago, allows me to discuss the civil liberties issues associated with the war on drugs separate from the discussion of marijuana legalization. We are not discussing marijuana legalization today. That deed is done and cannabis is legal. If this bill is defeated tonight, cannabis will still be legal. If after tonight's discussion the bill goes on to receive royal assent by the end of this Parliament, cannabis will retain the same legal status.
Tonight we are not talking about the impact that chemicals in drugs could have if we were to legalize them. Today we can say that this is irrelevant to the discussion. We are talking purely about the harm caused by the act of turning a victimless act into a crime.
Today, I want to say, as I did 18 years ago when I first published on the subject, that it is morally wrong to criminalize the personal use of any substance when the use or misuse of that substance would cause no harm to any individual other than the user himself or herself. The act of ingesting cannabis or alcohol, for example, and then driving a vehicle on a public roadway endangers others and is not a victimless crime. That is why it is illegal. That is why it ought to be illegal. However, consuming cannabis and then staying home for the weekend is victimless. For that matter, consuming alcohol and staying home for the weekend is also victimless.
When no person is victimized, other than the person engaged in the act, then it is a moral evil for the state to penalize the person who engages in that act. This principle would apply even if it were the case that none of the following conditions were true.
This principle would apply even if it were not the case, for example, that some people suffer from trauma that causes them to make impulsive choices, especially with regard to mood-altering substances. When these individuals are penalized, the law in effect singles out for punishment those who have suffered from the abusive behaviour of parents or partners, or from the trauma of war, or from fetal alcohol syndrome, or from simple brain trauma. The principle that victimless acts should never be punishable would apply even if it were not true that some people are endowed from birth with genes such as the NRXN3 gene, which in 2011 was identified as being associated with a greater likelihood of becoming addicted. In this case, the law is singling out for prosecution those who have lost the genetic lottery.
The principle would apply even if it were not true that those who have greater influence and power are far less likely to be prosecuted than an average Canadian who has committed the same offence. A case that makes this point is that of the 's brother, Michel Trudeau, who escaped prosecution for marijuana possession 21 years ago because of the intervention of his father, who was at the time himself a prime minister.
Here is how our current put this in a speech two years ago. He reported that back in 1998, his father, Pierre Trudeau, “reached out to his friends in the legal community, got the best possible lawyer and was very confident that he was going to be able to make those charges go away.” He continued, “We were able to do that because we had resources, my dad had a couple of connections, and we were confident that my little brother wasn't going to be saddled with a criminal record for life.”
The principle that no one should be punished for a victimless act would be true even if it were not the case that disadvantaged Canadians who are statistically more likely than their fellow citizens to be caught, prosecuted and saddled with a criminal record for life are far likelier to be members of social or racial groups that appear to be marginalized in other ways too.
Two criminologists from the University of Toronto found that in the period of 2015 to 2017 in Halifax, black people were five times more likely than white people to be arrested for cannabis possession. The same researchers found that in Regina, in the same period, 2015 to 2017, very recent history, indigenous persons were nine times more likely than white people to be arrested for this offence.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, who was one of the two criminologists, stated, “We know that rates of cannabis use are relatively similar across racial groups. So the fact that specific groups have been disproportionately targeted for drug law enforcement, especially black and Indigenous populations, strengthens that need for amnesty and for pardons. Because those groups have not only been disproportionately targeted, they have been disproportionately harmed by the consequences of having a criminal record.”
Therefore, it is not merely the issue of cannabis legalization that affects people on a racial basis. It is the removal of those byproducts of that racialization of the legal system. Given these facts, I think we can say that this is the very definition of systemic racism, regardless of the proximate cause of each individual arrest.
Of course, the foregoing examples of inequity really do exist and therefore, the provision of the Criminal Code prohibiting the possession of small quantities of marijuana, which happily is now repealed, was wrong at all of these levels too.
If the underlying offence ought never to have been an offence in the first place, which is not merely what I feel but what has already been decided by Parliament when it enacted the Cannabis Act a year ago, then it stands to reason that the retention of any long-term penalty such as a criminal record for the formerly unlawful activity must be wrong for exactly the same reasons. This is true whether it is a charter-protected right that we are talking about or whether it is merely the practical impact on some groups that have been discriminated against in the application of the law. It is true even when the issue is not whether the wrong is a charter prohibited wrong but whether it is merely a wrong when viewed from the point of view of natural justice, a point which is of very considerable significance when we speak about the distinction of the reasons why the government will not issue record expungements as it has done for offences under the Criminal Code at a time when homosexual acts between consenting adults were illegal.
To be clear, the retention of criminal records for persons who used marijuana when it was a criminal offence represented an ongoing injustice and represents today an ongoing injustice that must be remedied. Quite frankly, a provision expunging the records of persons found guilty of possessing less than 30 grams of cannabis ought to have been included in the Cannabis Act a year ago. Why it was not, particularly given the heartfelt civil libertarian sentiment that must have been the motivation for the to share that very personal story about his father and late brother, remains a mystery to me. I note that in other jurisdictions that have legalized the non-therapeutic use of cannabis, the recreational use of cannabis, such as California and Vermont, provisions expunging the records of those convicted under the repealed statutes are part of the repeal legislation itself.